Cariou v. Prince

Or Appropriation or Misappropriation II …

Yes Rasta – a series of photographs of Rastafarians taken by Patrick Cariou whilst living within a Rastafarian community – was published in book form in 2000.

Canal Zone was created by Richard Prince in 2008, the series being a number of art works which incorporated Cariou’s photographs.

The Canal Zone project involved copying and subsequently transforming original work by Cariou.

The transformations included, but were not limited to: enlargement, blurring, sharpening, content additions, and compositing.

Cariou filed against Prince, the Gagosian Gallery, Larry Gagosian (the gallery owner), and RCS MediaGroup for copyright infringement in 2009.

I think the decision reached in Cariou v. Prince is fair.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, Prince appropriated images that were created by Cariou.

He subsequently modified these and the resultant ‘art’ was tested against existing law on the basis that Cariou’s copyright had been infringed.

25 out of 30 cases of alleged copyright infringement were found to be ‘fair use’ and the remaining five were referred back down to a lower court for a judgment to be passed.

Art has been, and continues to be, influenced by the previous work of artists: appropriation of images is quite common, especially in the digital age.

I think the real issue here is with the way that Prince appropriated the images.

Was it appropriation? Or was it misappropriation? defines appropriation accordingly: ‘Appropriation in art and art history refers to the practice of artists using pre-existing objects or images in their art with little transformation of the original’ (, ca. 2017).

The law recognises the end use to which existing images may be put: differentiating between situations where images are appropriated for educational purposes or for creative purposes. Nevertheless, some basic form of recognition is expected. Setting everything else aside, it is common sense, if not common courtesy, to initiate some sort of contact with the originating artist in cases where the intention is to use existing art as a basis for new creative projects.

I think this is especially important in two situations, neither of which preclude the other: 1). where the original art is recognisable, 2). where the modified art will result in an inflow of revenue.

Cariou v. Prince bears striking similarity with ‘Joywar’ – in both cases images are appropriated without any attempt to seek permission from, or even communicate intentions to, the originating artist.

Nicaragua, 16 July 1979 and photographer Susan Meiselas captures an image that will become an icon representing a pivotal point in the country’s political history.

A petrol bomb is about to be thrown at a Somoza national guard garrison shortly before the Sandinistas take control, holding it for the next ten years.

Fast forward to spring 2003 when artist Joy Garnett begins a project – a series of paintings based solely on images taken by other photographers. Her use of Meiselas’ image prompted a letter from lawyer’s representing the author, asserting her right of ownership, citing copyright infringement and requesting that she seek written permission prior to using any further images.

Fundamentally, Garnett failed to acknowledge both authorship and context relating to Meiselas’ image. The consternation felt by Meiselas could have been avoided by Garnett simply crediting and referencing the work.

Issues relating to the potential appropriation of my work are difficult to predict. I would expect that any use of my images be credited and acknowledge me as the author. Where appropriate, I would also expect the source to be referenced.

Were my images to be used without credit, the response would be to request that, as far as possible, credit be attached retrospectively to any work already created in addition to credit be given in any future works. In terms of litigation, I think this would depend very much on whether my work had been appropriated for financial gain by the artist.


Garnett, J. and Meiselas, S. 2007. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 10 June 2007)

Tate.Org ca. 2017. Art Terms entry: ‘appropriation’ [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: Tuesday 03 October 2017)

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